The Hospital Gown: Misguided and Malfunctioned

The Hospital Gown: Misguided and Malfunctioned

Country Music icon Trace Adkins sang “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” at the Grand Ole Opry when I was in Nashville about a decade ago. The music was hot, but the lyrics left me wondering about Trace:

It’s so hard not to stare
At that honky tonk badonkadonk
Keepin’ perfect rhythm
Make ya wanna swing along
Got it goin’ on
Like Donkey Kong
And whoo-wee
Shut my mouth, slap your grandma
There outta be a law
Get the Sheriff on the phone
Lord have mercy, how’d she even get them britches on
That honky tonk badonkadonk

So when crazy-as-a-loon, slap-your-grandma, meant-to-do-it Trace tweeted a picture of himself wearing a hospital gown when getting his kidney stones blasted (tweets are generated by Twitter for all of you who know how to get on Facebook and not much else), the hospital gown had its back open, allowing you to see Trace’s bootie. His comment in the tweet was, “@ Vanderbilt having kidneys stones busted. No big deal.”

The big question is, why would he do that, being an icon and all. And why would anyone want to see Trace Adkins’ flat, skinny, sorry ass? I saw it and it wasn’t pretty. Not even close. (You can see it, too, if you want, at this link: Some history follows on the hospital gown, and then I’ll tell you my experience with the gown. Unlike Trace, I didn’t mean to show “it.”

The hospital gown has been in use since the beginning of the 20th century. There’s been some adjustments–a snap or two, cloth straps vs plastic ties–but mostly, they’re still the same. I don’t get it. The gown is the premier piece of clothing that separates the patients from the visitors and staff. So why no improvements?

“It is amazing. We have created a product nobody likes,” says Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles of North Carolina State University and an advocate for change.

That’s right. Almost nobody likes the hospital gowns. But the college went ahead and established focus groups to hone in on the gowns. With hospital gowns now holding over a whopping $75 million in the marketplace, somebody had to do something. And they did. The college got a grant, a quarter of a million to be exact, to improve the design, production, and marketing of the gown. A muckety-muck, the program officer in charge, dubbed the effort “Down With The Gown,” that might be good for Trace Adkins’ mindset because he only wore half of it. Personally, I think they should have called it what it was: “That Dumb-Ass Gown Has to Go.” .

There were efforts to improve the open-air gown. Nicole Miller, the posh designer, came up with new designs, sporting stethoscopes, syringes and other medical-related stuff, for Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in Hackensack, N.J., but in the ten years she has been re-inventing the hospital gown, HUMC is her only client. Maybe it’s because the gowns are double the price of the regular gowns.

At around the same time Nicole was performing her magic, trying to make something ugly into something not, Maine Medical Center in Portland came up with the sarong, an overdose of fabric for the Muslims patients, because they were missing appointments rather than wear the immodest hospital gowns. And designer Cynthia Rowley created gowns that were longer, had a mock turtleneck, and three-quarter-length snapped sleeves for women. She also designed a “gown” for men with expandable pants, a short sleeve shirt, and a matching robe. All improvements, for sure.

On the other hand, Michael Georgulis, the vice president of a nonprofit group which aligns 2100 American hospitals, thinks the old hospital gown has suffered an injustice. He says that there are two reasons the hospital gown should stay in its original form: the gowns are inexpensive and it works well in emergencies. Gregulis must have never suffered the indignity of the gowns. If he did have to wear the hospital gown, he might have sung a different tune. Seriously, how could he not?

So what happened to me? I’ll tell you because I want you to see how a stroke patient figured out what to do with the ass-inine gown. I broke my shoulder in the winter when I attempted to sit on a chair without arms. It was just a seat, but as I sat, I fell off because I lost my balance. I hit my head and hip, too, and passed out for a minute or two. I went to the hospital and, of course, the nurse put me in a gown, the unfancy, usual kind with a closed front and an open-air back. There were ties in the back, but as I walked to the bathroom in the busy emergency room, with one hand on the cane and the other hand not functioning, I had to make a run for it. Unlike Trace Adkins, I didn’t want anybody to see my behind as it flapped along, proverbially speaking, like two huge melons in synch.

I sat on the toilet and tried to imagine a better way. And then it hit me because, obviously, desperation (and necessity) is the mother of invention. I stood up and opened the door slightly to get a passing nurse’s attention. I said I wanted another hospital gown because mine tore at the straps. That was a lie, but with new hospital gown, I put it on backwards, the one underneath with the ties in the back, and the new one with the ties the front. My ass, at last, was secure.

I left the bathroom, knowing in full confidence, that my behind was safely tucked away beneath the new gown. I hadn’t come up with an idea that good since I discovered cut and paste back in the early 90s. When the doctor came in, he asked me why I was wearing two gowns.

“Because I don’t want my ass sticking out,” I replied. Then he saw the cane, chuckled, and put “2 and 2″ together. Two gowns indeed.

“Clever,” he muttered.

The doctor ordered an ultrasound and, as it turned out, I didn’t injure my partially-altered brain and I didn’t break my hip, but my shoulder was broken, and I still have swelling today, six months later, to prove it. But my bootie is right where it is supposed to be, unlike Trace’s, safely hidden away and not disappointing anyone.

  • Christopher

    Sorry, but I’m actually in complete favor of the hospital gowns with the embarrassing back side. I’ve been a visitor to countless hospitals in my life, and have witnessed many patient admissions (although I’ve never had to actually be a patient myself), and it took me a long time to accept wearing hospital gowns as a simple and unavoidable part of the human experience.
    I’m a Christian, and I actually believe God allowed hospitals to carry and use these gowns the way they have as a means of keeping our egos in check. Hospitals have mastered the art of destroying our puffed-up images of ourselves, and it’s for the best, because when you’re recovering in the hospital, your ego needs to stay out. I’m certain that there’s nothing in life more humbling, especially for men, than being forced to strip naked at your bedside, surrendering all of your pride, dignity, and privacy, and putting on a soft, lovely, enormous hospital gown that caresses your body like a nurturing mother tending to her newborn baby.
    Yes. In many ways, when you get admitted into a hospital, you are regressed to the state of a helpless little baby: You get two wristbands placed around your arm, you can’t pick out your own room, you can’t pick out your own gown color or pattern, which means regardless of your personal preferences, you could be forced to wear anything: If it’s a white gown with pretty blue flower snowflakes, you have to accept it. If you’re given a yellow gown with little green leaves, and snaps along the sides, you have to accept it. A light blue disposable underpad lies face-open on your bed, waiting to receive you like a diaper changing mat, a large strip of sanitary paper called a liner, bearing a recurrent pattern of a company name about ten times rests above this – you can’t refuse to lie down on this, either. The hospital places your physical safety above your own selfish little preferences and feelings of awkwardness.
    You CANNOT refuse the I.V. when the nurse comes to administer it to you. Patients have to endure the needle insertion, then the gobs of tape the nurse places on your arm to hold the I.V. in place. You have to wear the lovely light blue bouffant cap the nurse places on your head, not only to keep your hair from contaminating the operating table, but also to add the PERFECT compliment to your cute, adorable hospital gown. (That’s right, guys! We have to wear them, too!!! Hee, hee…)
    FINALLY, the patient undergoes the climax of this exotic, erotic experience: The urinary catheter insertion. From watching a YouTube video, I just have to say that if you’re a macho-wacho, smart-alecky, struttin’ kind of guy… this procedure will be a DEVESTATING blow to your ego. The nurse comes in and pulls down your bedsheet, then she lifts your hospital gown like a lady’s dress. (Ooo-hoo! Can you survive this?) She gently places a white paper sheet between your legs, slides it up directly under your penis, then she grabs about five cotton balls with a pair of tweezers, dips them in that brown, EXTREMELY hard-to-get-off Iodine Gel, and she swabs your ENTIRE penis… over, and over, and over again, to make SURE it is clean. Then, she lubricates both the catheter tube, AND your penis shaft, before inserting it. The tube enters your bladder, the nurse inflates a sterile water balloon to hold it in place, she wipes off your penis, tapes the tube to one of your legs (ha, ha! MORE tape!), then she gets everything put away.
    Lastly, after all the mortifying, erotic humiliation you as the patient were forced to endure, the nurse gives you your last red-faced blush: She gently drapes your lovely, patterned hospital gown over your private parts, covers you back up with your sheet, then she leaves the room.
    Despite all this, you love your life enough, you’re willing to undergo every bit of this as you pray for God’s mercy and provision over your health. As the hospital gown signifies, you have to COMPLETELY submit yourself to the care of surgeons and nurses, and once you are awake and resting in the recovery room, you’ll be so thankful you’re alive, and so sleepy, you won’t mind at all being butt-naked under a beautiful, flimsy hospital gown.
    I’m sorry, folks… but I have come to respect the way hospitals do things. I believe God has a purpose for all things… including hospital gowns.
    The only thing I would want if I was hospitalized would be for a sweet, gorgeous lullaby to be sung to me, so I could peacefully drift off to sleep again…. and have pleasant dreams.

    • Bob

      LOL. For the record, and the benefit of any poor soul who doesn’t understand sarcasm, you can refuse anything in the hospital, including the gown.